Jude Wanniski, 1936-2005

George Gilder
The Wall Street Journal
September 1, 2005
Print ArticleOriginal Article

As Jude Wanniski knew, and expounded, "Economies are driven not by the dollars in people's pockets but by the ideas in their heads." By that measure, the U.S. economy still rides high on Jude's ideas and Jude -- who for many years wrote editorials on economics for this newspaper -- ranks high on the lists of the world's richest men. As a prime legatee of this wealth, I find it grows ever faster with the passing years. As countries from Russia to New Zealand follow the lead of his low-tax vision, I cherish more and more my winnings and my memories of him.

Reaching an apogee in this newspaper with his 1978 editorial "Stupendous Steiger," Jude's charismatic focus on the tax on capital gains redeemed the fiscal policies of four administrations. After the publication, that same year, of his book, "The Way the World Works," the capital-gains tax has come erratically but inexorably down -- while the market capitalization of U.S. equities has risen from roughly a third of global market cap to close to half. These many trillions in new entrepreneurial wealth are a true warrant of the worth of his impact. Unbound by zero-sum economics, Jude forged the golden gift of a profound and passionate argument that the establishments of the mold must finally give way to the powers of the mind. He audaciously defied all the Buffetteers of the trade gap, the moldy figs of the Phillips Curve, the chic traders in money and principle, even the stultifying pillows of the Nobel Prize.

Jude remains my own noble laureate in economics. His influence changed my first economic text, then chiefly a book on why the world doesn't work, called "The Pursuit of Poverty," into "Wealth & Poverty," widely depicted as a "supply-side manifesto." The supply-side dimension came mainly and manifestly from Jude, who gave us the phrase and permitted our common editor, Midge Decter, to give me a draft of "The Way the World Works" before I finished my own writing. I was totally captivated and paid his draft the highest compliment, absconding with its theme for my own work -- indeed, for my entire career.

I then acclaimed the book in National Review and touted it again for the magazine's issue listing the 100 most important books of the 20th century. I only regret disputing for a while Jude's insights into gold as the intrinsic natural monetary standard. But with the help of Lewis Lehrman, Jude finally prevailed on me and I fully capitulated at the American Spectator, editing and publishing his argument on the deflationary impact of declining gold prices in the late '90s. I even added my own two cents on gold and information theory as a box. Today, with the administration pressing China to cast its economy adrift in the global currency markets, Jude's visionary wisdom on money is more precious than ever.

Jude was too headstrong to be faithfully followed at every turn, and I readily confess to reservations on the point and prudence of his current caper. Contrary capers can go too far, and it's not unfair to say that his late-in-life consorting with Farrakhan, and writings in defense of Saddam, were too contrarian for me. But I am confident that as usual, over the course of time, we will, all of us -- supply-siders, social conservatives, Club for Growth pols, neo-cons and traditionalists -- follow his economic lead, as his legacy grows and deepens in years to come.

Mr. Gilder, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, is editor of The Gilder Technology Report.